Australian Plants in Japan

By Alex (Akira) ENDO from Japan>



I am Alex (Akira) ENDO, an amateur horticulturist and one of RHSJ members.My garden was awarded Grand Prix in the gardening contest of "Shizuoka International Garden and Horticulture Exhibition-Pacific Flora 2004". I won a New Zealand Gardening Tour prize for a pair. I expressed my garden based on the theme "Harmony of Japan and Australia" at the competition. I think the reason why I won the competition is because I succeeded in utilizing unique Australian plants in an effective way.Judges highly esteemed my original Japanese- Australian garden design and my cultivation skill to be able to grow Australian plants from seeds and spores. I spent five years in Australia and during that time developed deep love for the plants that regularly grow in Australian gardens. I have planted many of these plants in my home garden now.

My view for gardening

east720_25m.jpgThe natural traditional Japanese garden style has been popular in Japan for a long time. The style called British garden has been in fashion recently. However, the so-called British style gardens seen in Japan involve much mimicry without individuality. Against such a background, a modern garden style unique to new Japan is happening now.
My garden designs present the beauty and vitality that Australian plants have to the maximum extent. I proposed this garden style, in which the culture of Japan and Australian unite, as a fusion garden. There is the beauty and harmony of Japan combined with Australian influences in my garden. I should say, "The secret of gardening is making a plant an ally." I expect many people to be utilizing Australian plants in the future.

grev923_m.jpgAnd I am enjoying the combination of Aussie plants and the other plants in my Japanese garden. My most favorite combination recently is Grevillea 'Robyn Gordon' and Albizia julibrissin 'Summer Chocolate'. The red Grevillea flower against the background of the deep purple leaves of Albizia julibrissin is really artistically beautiful. It is very fresh beauty. I enjoy the rich atmosphere, which comes from the mixture of traditional Japanese and modern Australian design. In my garden, since many plants are stuffed in a small space, it looks like a jungle. Therefore, people call it a Junglish garden. Of course, Junglish is made-up word combining Jungle, Japan and English together.

Why did I start Australian

Garden? I had lived in Melbourne from 1987 to 1992. I enjoyed the Australian life very much. Nice people, big house and garden, beautiful flowers and plants, Australian wine and food, golf and so on. I very much appreciated Australian people's kindness, which I received while I was in Australia. After I came back to Japan, I missed Australia very much. I started Australian gardening in order to recreate the garden in Melbourne. In those days, Australian plants were very rare plants in Japan, and it was very difficult to get those seeds. I tried to import some seeds from Australia. These are Eucalyptus, Banksias, Acacia and Tree Fern etc. But, even after getting some seeds from Australia, no one knew how to grow them under the different environment and climate in Japan. I failed in the cultivation of Australian plants several times, but I patiently tried several different ways. Sometimes I studied the soil. The most difficult thing to deal with was the climate of Japan, the severely cold winter and the heat with high humidity during the summer. At last, I conquered various difficulties and succeeded in cultivating Australian plants in Japan. About ten years have passed since I started to grow Australian Plants.

For Australian plants, another severe environment problem is the difficulty to secure a large space in small Japanese gardens.


As you may know, Japan is a small and congested country. It is very difficult to have a large garden. My garden is only 60 square meters. Comparing my present garden with the garden in Melbourne, the present garden in Yokohama is about 1/ 10 in size. It is like a miniature garden surely. As a result, I have to nurse Australian plants in the pot and bring them into the house during the winter season.

As you may know, Japan is a small and congested country. It is very difficult >My garden photos on this page are actually those of a Japanese style Australian garden.The mainstream of Australia gardening is the native wild flower garden, I think. But regarding my Japanese-Australian gardening, I am using not only native Australian plants but also many plants from the Southern Hemisphere countries, such as South Africa native protea and strelitzia, Brazil native Jacaranda, and phormium tenax from New Zealand. Of course, the flowers from Europe and Japanese native plants are also used in an effective way.

What is the charm point of Australian Plants and Gardening?

The focal point is the fascinating, individual plants themselves. The wonderful plants which accomplished peculiar evolution in the Southern Hemisphere tells us the mystery of Nature as it is. And the culture of Australia has inherited the culture of Britain and it is the same in gardening. Furthermore, it is also the country of crossing cultures and even the Japanese Bonsai is quite popular. It is fascinating to learn that such various cultures are reflected also in gardening.

On the other hand, the charming points about Australian plants are that the flowers continue blooming for a long period. For example, Grevillea 'Robyn Gordon' in my garden blooms almost all the year round except for winter. And bottlebrushes bloom several times through the year. This is a special feature of these very attractive Australian plants. Japanese plants generally do not share this characteristic. The flower of the cherry tree representing Japan, for example, breaks up in only one week. Cherry blossoms have a very transitory life. The plants from Australia are still continuously increasing in number, gradually, in my small garden.

The current situation with Australian plants in Japan

I would like to explain the current situation of Australian plants in Japan. Recently Australian plants and flowers have become popular here in Japan. Every year, for the last few years, some new species of Australian flowers have appeared in the shop fronts of horticulture stores in Japan in spring. It seems that it has already been accepted that the Australian flowers enliven spring horticulture store displays. Also people can get Australian tree seedlings, which are grafted by specialists in Japan. Most of these trees can bear the Japanese climate and natural features. If we, Japanese people, want to get some Australian plants in Japan, we can get them easily at the nurseries. I hope that the Aussie plants will adapt to the climate of Japan gradually, and grow stronger. Australia is a treasury of a flowers and I expect that various new flowers will continue to be introduced to Japan.

Container garden with Australian plant


Australian flowers are also popular as container garden plants. I think 'container gardening' is a typical Japanese gardening style. Many people live in flats and they enjoy gardening at their verandas. Mixed species of plants are gathered and planted in a small pot. Brachyscome is the one of the most popular flowers for container gardening. Australia plants and flowers have certainly spread quickly in Japan. Probably traditional bonsai and Japanese flower arrangement techniques may have some influence to container gardening. Many people are enjoying their tiny container gardens.

Australian Gardening Materials

brickcherry56_s.jpgAs I mentioned previously, Australian plants have become popular during the last few years in Japan. Australian gardening materials have been become popular as well. For example, Australian bricks are now one of the most commonly used bricks for gardening in Japan. And Australian red gum railway sleepers are also very popular. People use them for their modern gardens. I would like to show you some samples of how these Australian gardening materials are used in my garden in Japan. In my case, I use Australian bricks and cherry logs for terrace tiles. The surface of cherry bark is very beautiful and I found out that the harmony of Australian brick and cherry logs is wonderful. I also tried the combination of Australian brick and Japanese natural granite stones. I used them for stepping-stones in my small garden. Between the stones, I have spread some garden gravel and planted Japanese evergreen grass. I used some railway sleepers and Australian bricks for steps and curbstones around the flowerbeds. The combination of the bricks and sleepers is very fantastic. It is great that not only Australian plants but also Australian gardening materials have become popular in Japan.

Australian Flowersユ name in Japan

It is interesting that each Australian flower in Japan is especially named in the Japanese style. I think that the Boronia family began the Aussie plants boom. It began to be sold with the name "Southern Cross", and truly, the name created the image of it having come from a foreign country in the Southern Hemisphere, and it certainly gave a very fresh impression. Even now, the Boronia species are the most popular Aussie plants here. Next, Lechenaultia, named in Japanese "Hatukoisou", which means "first love flower", is very popular now. It is a truly romantic sounding name for Japanese people. There was only blue color ones at first, but now there are red, pink and orange varieties and also a mixed colored flower has appeared in the market this year. Next, Helipterum anthemoides that is named メHanakanzashiモ, meaning メOrnamental Hairpin Flowerモ, is also popular this year. It appeals to women in particular.

Several Australian Plants in my garden

One of my Australian recollections is the fresh scent of eucalyptus at the golf courses where I played in the early morning. I used to often hit a golf ball into the eucalyptus forest by mistake, but the fresh scent of eucalyptus encouraged me to recover and continue a golf game. During my stay in Australia, I came across many wonderful beautiful flowering gums and huge beautiful brave gum trees. I recognized that eucalyptus is the essence of Australian flora, and I think eucalyptus for an Australian has the equivalent value to the pine tree Bonsai or cherry blossoms for a Japanese.

euca108_m.jpg Eucalyptus leucoxylon rosea is blooming in my garden again this year. It is a miracle. A small seed came from the Southern Hemisphere, overcame the strong wind and rainfall and grew up here in Japan. (The koalas on the branches are pleased to see the eucalyptus flowers!) It is a very new eucalyptus in Japan. It is said that a typical Australian tree is eucalyptus. Generally speaking in Japan, eucalyptus is famous for being the food for koalas and a lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citridora) for herbal remedies. But, many people do not know that the flowers such as the Coral Gum are so beautiful. And Eucalyptus cinerea foliage is often used for Japanese flower arrangement. However, it is said that eucalyptus has several hundred varieties and there are very diverse kinds. Although many kinds of eucalyptus become big trees in the forest, some kinds are good for a garden tree. And I would like to introduce some eucalyptuses that have adapted to the climate in Japan. They are actually growing in my garden here in Yokohama since I started importing eucalyptus seeds eight years ago.

In order to germinate a eucalyptus seed, a special method is required. In Australia, the climate is very dry and bush fires break out frequently. It is said that eucalyptus seeds can germinate after the experience of a bush fire and a rain after that. In order to fulfill this condition artificially, seeds are quickly parched with a frying pan, or covered by boiling water. Not only eucalyptus but also banksias and acacia, etc. these seeds are germinated by this method.

I am cultivating several kinds of eucalyptuses in my small garden, and I had to cut down one of them the other day because it grew too large. Eucalyptus camaldulensis grew far too much and had a bad influence on the surrounding plants. Coral Gum is comparatively small, and has masses of flowers blooming. This frost tolerant eucalyptus tree is suitable for small gardens. I would like to recommend Coral Gum to a gardener. I think that the following things are the reasons why eucalyptus does not become popular in Japan. One is that a eucalyptus becomes too large and is not suitable as a garden tree in small gardens. Another reason is that they can be weak to the wind and the coldhess.

This typical Australian flower makes me remember the rich life of Australia.

Tree fern: Dicksonia antarctica

fern_e.jpgThe most remarkable plants in my garden are the tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica), which I grew from spores. Dicksonia is a very new plant in Japan. I love it very much. Mine are eight years old, and they are too large for my small garden already. I am afraid that my garden will become like Jurassic Park soon. When I was in Australia I often came across huge tree ferns in eucalyptus forests in the mountains and even in the residential areas. They look like Japanese cycas, but grow as huge trees and the foliage is softer and frost tolerant. They are very popular as garden plants in Australia. Australian Tree Fern, Dicksonia Antarctica, shows us her fantastic and beautiful style. Dicksonia antarctica is one of my most favorite plants I believe that a fern has a special beauty, which has overcome the severe natural environment and has survived since ancient times. I have heard that in Britain, when London was smoggy, Australian tree ferns, which grew up in the weak light, were popular among intellectuals living in the city. In the near future I believe that Australian tree ferns will become popular as garden plants in Japan.

How did I get them?
Eight years ago, I searched for various ways to acquire a tree fern in Japan. I found out some Japanese botanical Gardens such as the Tsukuba national experiment botanical garden had Australian tree ferns, but it was very difficult to get them for myself. I tried to ask overseas nurseries to dispatch them, but I was refused and the costs for it were too expensive for me. Finally, I asked The Society for Growing Australian Plants how I could get the tree fern spore. They kindly introduced me to one Australian nursery that handle tree fern spore. In those days, as the Internet was not so popular, I corresponded with them by facsimile. Finally, I got the spores; it was April in 1996.

How to germinate the fern spores?
Well, I got some tree fern spores at last, but I had no idea how to germinate them. Then, I investigated about the spore germination by the Internet; some of the sites I visited were overseas sites. In order to sterilize the propagating mix, which uses peat moss as the base, distilled water is sprayed on it every day. It is also sealed with a sheet of glass to maintain humidity. It must be places in the shade at the temperature of about 20 degrees. This was in May 1996.

However--- However, regrettably this method failed. I carried out several methods to try to germinate them simultaneously. For example, sowing spores directly on the ground, or sowing them into empty plastic yogurt cases filled with propagating mix. The only successful method of germination, which I experienced, is the following:

I used a polystyrene box and made several holes in it. The Kanumazuchi (Japanese pumice-like mix, used for striking cuttings) was put into the box, and then the propagating mix was put on top of it. I sterilized the mix with boiling water. The spore was sprinkled on the top, and the box was sealed with Saran Wrap (Glad Wrap). It was the last method I tried and it was successful. A moss began to grow on the surface about three weeks after. It became green and the whole surface was soon covered with moss like seedlings (gametophyte). At that time, it was necessary to spray every day so that it would not dry out. In about two months, the box was crowded with moss. This was in August 1996.

The next stage was the transplanting. I cut the moss-like seedlings (gametophyte) about 5mm around, filled a new polystyrene box with commercial compost, and covered the surface with about 1cm of propagating mix, and picked up the moss with tweezers, and planted them on to the medium. Saran Wrap and sprayed water were indispensable after the transplant to maintain moisture. My house looked like the morbid world of a maniac very much!! I could never do it again! Soon, the pretty leaves (sporophyll) came up about 1cm from some places. Winter was approaching at this stage. I put the box in a bright indoor place by the window during the winter. In the spring of 1998, about 50 seedlings were transplanted into the pots. After that, in about two years, although dryness of summer and direct rays of the sun killed quite a few, some of those planted in the ground under the shade of a tree overcame the severe cold winter grew vigorously. They did not get damaged even by the snow, and as of October 2004, the lengths of the leaves are about 100cm. In the near future I believe that Australian tree ferns will become popular as garden plants in Japan.


touroubottle827_m.jpg Recently, many bottlebrushes (Callistemon) have been used in the gardens of a new residential area here. I heard that a bottlebrush was brought into Japan during the Meiji era (about 100 years ago) and actually, sometimes a bottlebrush tree may be seen in the garden of an old farmhouse in the country. The form of this unique flower is popular in traditional Japanese flower arrangements. Only in the last two or three years, has the bottlebrush become popular as a tree for gardens. In fact the bottlebrush is the latest new fashion tree. Here, the bottlebrush is called ヤKIMPOIJUユ, the Japanese name meaning "golden treasure tree". Probably, this new flower that shone red looked like a precious thing - like a golden treasure. Recently, pink and white bottlebrushes, in addition to the red ones, have become popular.

Post script

Last year, I was contacted by someone from the Australian Embassy in Tokyo who wanted to know how I had created an Australian garden in Japan. Subsequently, I visited the Australian embassy. I gave some eucalyptus and bottlebrush, which I grew from imported seeds to the Embassy. The Embassy had a huge garden, but the garden was very Japanese. They had a plan to build a Native Australian Garden. I participated in the project. The garden was completed after six months, and the garden was changed to a typical Australian garden. I am very happy that I was able to contribute to this new Australian garden. It is wonderful that world goodwill is made through horticulture. It is also a pleasure for me to introduce current Japanese culture to overseas through horticulture.

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